Friday, January 15, 2010

Under the Dome

I read my first Stephen King book almost 20 years ago when I was going to tech school for the Air Force.  I had avoided him up until then because I was afraid that if I liked him I would have to read about 25 more books that he already had published at that time (I tend to do that for authors I like).  But I took the plunge largely because of my sister in law who is an avid fan and just couldn't understand why I hadn't read him yet.

That was 20 years ago and now, Under the Dome is my 41st Stephen King novel.  Guess you can say that I liked that first one back then.  Some of them have been masterpieces (The Stand, The Green Mile, etc) while others have been downright stinkeroos (The Tommyknockers). I am happy to report that Under the Dome is far closer to the top end than the bottom and in fact I would go so far as to say it is in the top 5 Stephen King novels so far.  He reportedly began writing this novel more than 30 years ago but gave it up due to its complexity and shear scope.  In 2007 he took it up again and charged ahead to completion, resulting in another very successful novel.

The idea is fairly simple: a transparent and completely indestructable dome has appeared over a small town in Maine, allowing nothing to get through either way.  The people inside are trapped while those outside are helpless to provide assistance.  About a week goes by over the course of the novel.  Part of the resulting story deals with the mystery of just what this dome is and how did it get to be there but the far larger aspects of the story deal with how people react when faced with this situation.  I read an interview once where Mr King was asked about his favorite authors and influences and which novel would he have most liked to have written.  He replied, Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  This book, I think, is Stephen King's version of Lord of the Flies.

 Stephen King is at his best with his interacting characters, whether they be smart, religious, rich, poor, or fools.  He has long recognized that the most real horror is the kind of horror that real people inflict upon one another when they are desperate.  There are no monsters or demons in this book except those of the very real human being variety.  As the novel unfolds, the situation gets more and more desperate and the members of the town have to choose sides.  One of the best bad guys Stephen King has ever produced, "Big Jim" Renny, makes his debut here.  He is ultimately just a bully, but he is a smart, far thinking, master manipulator as well.  I just love an intelligent, well written bad guy.

This is a long book though and I will admit to times when I was wishing it was a tad shorter.  Mr King includes a huge cast of characters which can become burdensome if left in less capable hands.  But to his credit, once I had completed the book  I was able to look back at the long list of characters provided at the beginning and know every single one of them.  Even though the point of view character keeps switching all over the place, (including to a family dog!), Mr King has a way of reminding us just who the person is, very subtely, but enough to keep the reader on track.  I also enjoyed they very handy map of the town which really helped keep track of what was going on as the week under the dome unfolded. Marvelous job!

This morning, I completed the second short story in Jeffrey Archer's collection, Cat O'Nine Tales, "Maestro".  This was a straight forward story about an Italian restauranteur who had to serve time in jail for failing to pay all of his taxes.  Once again this was another story based in truth and told to Mr Archer while he, himself, was incarcerated.  The nice twist in this one was the revelation that the protagonist was able to find a new, sneaky way of hiding his income which is still in practice today.  Mr Archer is a story teller first and foremost.  His prose is heavy on the "telling" not the "showing" or the dialogue, thus his short stories tend to be like sitting around a campfire and listening to a story...very enjoyable.

Next up: John Jakes' Savannah: Or a Gift for Mr Lincoln.


  1. Glad to read you liked Under the Dome. I bought it because I buy all of his books, but then made the mistake of reading some reviews. Not pretty. The most disturbing thing I read about the book is that it is overtly political to the point it could almost be classified as an allegory. Those who felt this way thought that the book was a thinly (very thinly) veiled critique of America's policies under the Bush administration. I hope it doesn't read that way. It bothers the snot out of me when writers allow their politics to infringe on their stories.

  2. I think that is overplayed but I will say I was annoyed from time to time that King let his bias shine through. Most notably his bad guy characters were the religious ones (over-the-top) and didn't like the current "commie" president whereas the good guys were much more even keeled. I also don't think he got the military right in this one (not sure he ever has) although they are good guys here and very sympathetic for the reader. Also one of the two main characters is a republican.

    I can tolerate that stuff in exchange for his awesome writing skills :)

  3. There are all sorts of interesting things about this post, but the thing that really sticks with me is that you avoided a book for awhile. I do that all the time for various reasons. I still haven't read LOVELY BONES and probably never will. But I FINALLY am reading LONE SURVIVOR and am glad I finally did. Worth the angst, fer sure.

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire